I Swapped 3 Hours of Screen Time with Reading Time

I Swapped 3 Hours of Screen Time with Reading Time
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

3 years, 86% less screen time, 1100% increase in reading time — How did I do it? How did it impact my life?

In 2019, I had 3.5 hours of screen time and less than 10 minutes of reading time.

Fast forward to 2023, and I have 30 minutes of screen time and almost 2 hours of reading time.

That’s an 86% decrease in screen time and an 1100% increase in reading time.

How did I do it? How did it affect my life? Will I continue doing this?

Let’s talk about it.

How Did I Do it?

I did not make this change overnight.

It was a gradual shifting of the hours — most of it deliberately, and some parts of it organically.

I made most of the changes between 2019 and 2021, and the remaining came in the last 2 years.

Less Social Media

I used to spend a crazy number of hours on social media apps — Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. The bulk of the screen time was occupied by these infinity pools. I could just pull down, refresh, and spend the next 30 minutes or so consuming fresh content.

Rinse. Repeat.

So the obvious solution was to get rid of social media apps on my phone. I still kept the accounts open, and I check up on them every other Sunday, or some other infrequent cadence depending on what else I have going on.

This freed up at least 2 hours (if not more!) every day to be spent on something more meaningful.

Magical Microreading

What I mean by “microreading” is spending random 5–10 minutes chunks throughout the day reading, instead of pulling up your phone for distraction.

In the bathroom? Take a book with you.

Waiting for the water to boil in the kitchen? Read a few pages.

Waiting on someone? Read.

Going to bed or right after waking up? Read instead of grabbing your phone.

These are the minutes that always add up.

I replaced all these occasions (and more) with reading. Gradually, I stopped getting “the twitch” to check my phone every time I was looking for distractions.

Keep My Phone Away

Microreading meant I had less use for my phone.

So why keep a constant distraction in my pocket at all times? Instead, I started keeping my phone in my bedroom when I worked, and outside my bedroom when I am going to sleep.

Once I started doing this on a consistent basis, I realized how little I really need my phone to get any meaningful work done.

Read 2 Books At Once

To keep things interesting, instead of reading one book, I started rotating between 2 simultaneously.

One Fiction. One Non-fiction.

I picked up the fiction before going to bed and after waking up.

The rest of the day, I picked up the non-fiction.

Always Keep A Book With You

I always have a backpack with me. So it’s really easy to take a book with me whenever I am going out.

I was surprised to see the amount of “dead time” I have when I am out and about.

Sometimes I have to wait for other people to come and at other times I am grabbing something quick to eat. What do I do when I am eating? Instead of putting on YouTube, I started reading a few pages.

Keeping a book with me at all times became a cheat code to reading more instead of scrolling away mindlessly.

How Did It Affect My Life?

After more than 2 years of doing this consistently (even more in the last year), the question I get asked all the time is if I am actually benefitting from such a lifestyle.

The simple answer is “Yes”.

More Immersive Experience

Out of everything else, this is what surprised me the most.

I was always told that multimodal (audio, video) experiences are always more immersive. Reading is a very one-dimensional experience. You are staring at blank text. Maybe you get the occasional image or graphs and charts if you are reading non-fiction.

To my surprise, I find reading more immersive than anything else.

I think it all comes down to the singular focus.

When watching Netflix or YouTube, I am always doing something on the side.

When on Facebook or Instagram, I am scrolling through hundreds and thousands of “posts”, making it impossible to focus on one thing at a time.

When reading, however, all my focus is on the words on the page. The sheer lack of stimulating content all around narrows my focus to the book, and only the book at any given time.

That meant, I actually “felt like I was in the story” or started thinking critically about any topic I was reading about in non-fiction.

Finishing More Books Than Ever

This one is quite obvious.

More reading time meant crunching through books at an unparalleled pace.

I started finishing at least one book, if not two, every week.

This is coming from a person who barely finished one book over 2–3 years.

Increased Attention Span

Reading has immensely helped my attention span.

I can focus for longer hours and retain information much better.

Every day started feeling less of a blur.

Previously, spending so much time on social media meant mindlessly scrolling through content that literally added nothing to my life. There was no information to retain. There were no lessons to take away and implement in my life.

That meant, looking back, I could never figure out how the entire day has passed by.

With reading, I was spending my time more intentionally, and more often than not, I actually had things I could take away from the book, and implement in my own life.

Much Better Sleep

Not only did my sleep hours improve, but also my quality of sleep.

Reading before bed meant I gradually started feeling more and more sleepy before shutting the book and falling into a deep slumber in a matter of minutes.

In comparison, mindlessly scrolling on my phone that was blasting stimulating content (with an unhealthy dose of blue light) made me feel more awake rather than prepare me for sleep.

The result: Significantly more time spent in bed before I even attempted to sleep.

Similarly, mornings have become much more intentional too since this lifestyle change.

When I wake up, I read a few pages of whatever book I read the night before. I am very intentional with the number of pages I read. Because of that, unlike being on my phone, I don’t spend hours in my bed after waking up doing literally nothing.

Dumb & Smart Simultaneously

The more I read, the more I realize how little I know about the world.

Ironically, the more I read, the more I also realize how much I know about certain topics when they come up in the news or during a conversation.

I started thinking more critically and less driven by emotions and “feelings”.

I am a very curious person, so reading definitely helps quench that third for knowledge. When reading about a topic, I usually go down the rabbit hole, read more and more books about the topic, and start writing about it too.

The more I read and write about something, the deeper I know about it, and the more critically I think.

I prefer deep knowledge about a topic gained in this way, rather than learning about something in a shallow manner through YouTube Shorts and TikTok videos.

Will I Continue With This?

I am sure it’s obvious by now, but YES I will continue this.

I have reduced my screen time enough. The remainder is “essential screen time” that I need to be productive. I have reached a point where I use my phone as a tool, rather than become the tool for my phone.

If you have a high screen time as I did, I would tell you to try the following out:

  1. Delete some social media apps from your phone
  2. Don’t keep your phone with you all the time
  3. Create a habit of reading 1–2 pages before going to bed and after waking up

See how you feel after doing these.

Maybe it’s not for you and you prefer spending time on social media. You won’t know unless you try it out.

If you tried something like this out, or you want to experiment with it, please comment below. I would love to know about your experience.